Sunday, March 11, 2012

I will not forget - 11th March 2011

Today it has been exactly 1 year since the tsunami in Japan. 11th March 2011, the dreadful day when thousands of houses, people, shops, schools, cars and boats were swept away like they were nothing by the dreadful waves caused by an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale.

I was at my University that morning, getting ready for a lecture, and only a few days prior I had spoken to my friend in Sendai, Japan who I would often communicate with on a day to day basis. The day was a very normal day until I went up to the third floor in the Media building and saw what was being broadcast on the flat screen outside of the elevators.

Just like my dream the night before, a town was on fire. The flashing images of boats being carried away like feathers, and a whole town underneath water, sent a terrible discomfort through my body. It was Japan, and the reporters were indicating that among the cities which had been worst affected by this Tsunami was Sendai.

As I tried to tell myself that this could not possibly be happening to a country that was so small and which I had thought would never experience such tremors - being unaware of the earthquakes that had damaged whole cities years prior - I could not help but fear the worst.

Nights after that day became sleepless nights. My sleeping pattern was interrupted and was followed by my constant trying to brush away fearful thoughts by watching dramas and leaving my lights on. Just like the 2004 tsunami, I had that terrible feeling of lives having been sucked out of the world as though I had known the individuals who had perished.  All I ate, spoke about, thought about and dreamed about was related to the Japanese tsunami. Each night I would pray and cry about my friend who I was unsure of was even alive. Due to the power cuts in various areas of Japan there was no way I could get in touch with him or assure myself that he was safe. I could only pray and hope for the best.

Minutes turned into hours, hours into days and days into weeks where I found myself asking on forums (set up especially for missing people due to the tsunami) if anyone had seen my friend or heard from him. The task became even harder as there existed so many people who shared his name and surname.

Just when I was about to lose all hope, he replied to a message I had sent him -- rather all the messages I had sent him wondering if he was alright and where he was -- telling me that he was okay and that he was lucky to be living away from the seaside where things were at their worst. He assured me that I did not have to worry and that all his family, including himself, were well and safe. That day was the happiest day of my life. So many of my friends were aware how worried I had been, and how little I had eaten, torturing myself to stay awake just in case I would hear from him. It finally enabled me to have some rest.

Hearing from my friend did not stop me from feeling sorry for all the helpless people who were desperately searching for their loved ones, just hoping that they were well no matter what. However, images of people being rescued from rubble several days, or even weeks, after the tsunami were enough to set alight new hope in people. They just had to be hopeful.

I found it hard to imagine, and did not want to imagine, the pain and agony people were going through  with no houses, no food, and lost family members and friends. But what I had not expected, and perhaps parts of the world too, was how Japan would rise above the event and show their strength to carry on, even when things were hard. Even a year on, it is amazing to see how things are coming back together.

Of course this wasn't the only tsunami that had ever happened in the world, and definitely not the only earthquake, but having someone I knew being caught up in it had been quite hard to face.

It is indeed easier for people to brush something off, or away, if they are not directly affected by it, or don't have family members who have been affected. But, as I sit and remember that terrible day and how I hope such a day never resurfaces, I think one must -- first and foremost -- always be thankful for every breath they are able to draw, living each day as though it were their very last.